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‘Mowing the Grass’: Israel’s Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conflict

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  • Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Abstract

‘Mowing the Grass’, Israel’s strategy in the twenty-first century against hostile non-state groups, reflects the assumption that Israel finds itself in a protracted intractable conflict. The use of force in such a conflict is not intended to attain impossible political goals, but a strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities. Only after showing much restraint in its military responses does Israel act forcefully to destroy the capabilities of its foes, hoping that occasional large-scale operations also have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along its borders. The Israeli approach is substantively different from the current Western strategic thinking on dealing with non-state military challenges.
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Mowing the Grass: Israel’s
Strategy for Protracted
Intractable Conflict
Efraim Inbara & Eitan Shamira
a Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan
University, Israel
Published online: 10 Oct 2013.
To cite this article: Efraim Inbar & Eitan Shamir , Journal of Strategic Studies (2013):
Mowing the Grass: Israel’s Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conflict, Journal of
Strategic Studies
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2013.830972
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Mowing the Grass:
Israels Strategy for Protracted
Intractable Conict
EFRAIM INBAR AND EITAN SHAMIR
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Israel
ABSTRACT Mowing the Grass, Israels strategy in the twenty-rst century
against hostile non-state groups, reects the assumption that Israel nds itself in
a protracted intractable conict. The use of force in such a conict is not intended
to attain impossible political goals, but a strategy of attrition designed primarily
to debilitate the enemy capabilities. Only after showing much restraint in its
military responses does Israel act forcefully to destroy the capabilities of its
foes, hoping that occasional large-scale operations also have a temporary deter-
rent effect in order to create periods of quiet along its borders. The Israeli
approach is substantively different from the current Western strategic thinking
on dealing with non-state military challenges.
KEY WORDS: Asymmetrical War, Counterinsurgency, Deterrence, Israel Defense
Forces, Military Strategy, Terrorism, Use of Force
A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if
you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planetIt is a
question of disciplineYou must see to it that you pull up
regularly all the baobabs, at the very rst moment when they can
be distinguished from the rosebushes which they resemble so
closely in their earliest youth. It is very tedious work.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Israel has a rich experience in the use of military force.
1
Notably, the
last conventional large-scale encounter involving armored divisions
and air duels took place in 1982 in Lebanon against the Syrian
Army. Since then, Israel has used force primarily against non-state
1
For a typology of Israels wars see Stuart A. Cohen and Efraim Inbar, A Taxonomy of
Israels Use of Military Force,Comparative Strategy 10/10 (April 1991).
The Journal of Strategic Studies, 2013
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2013.830972
© 2013 Taylor & Francis
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armed organizations in small wars.
2
This reects the changes in the
Arab-Israeli conict, as the inter-state dimension of the conict lost
much of its intensity, turning the arena mainly into non-state
entities.
3
Israels strategic approach toward terrorists and irregular
forces, a challenge to the Zionist enterprise from the very beginning,
has evolved in accordance with transient political and operational
challenges.
4
Israels use of force against non-state actors in the twenty-rst
century has attracted academic attention and has been subject to
much criticism. This literature maintains that Israels tactical successes
have no corresponding political or strategic strategic dividends.
5
Ignoring opportunities by not engaging the political side of the conict
2
For the notion of small wars, see Col. C.E. Calwell, Small Wars: Their Principles &
Practice, 3rd edition (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press 1996).
3
For the state and non-state dimensions of the conict, see Shmuel Sandler, The
Protracted Arab-Israeli Conict, A Temporal Spatial Analysis,The Jerusalem Journal
of International Relations 10/4 (1988), 5478. Increased combat against non-state
entities is characteristic of other states since the end of the Cold War. See data in
Global Conict Trends, Center for Systemic Peace, Severn, MD, posted online at
<http://www.systemicpeace.org/conict.htm>. For a review of the recent literature on
this phenomenon, see Azar Gat, Is War Declining and Why?Journal of Peace
Research 50/2 (2012), 14957.
4
There is vast literature on Israels wars against guerrillas and terrorists since 1948. See
inter alia Benny Morris, Israels Border Wars, 19491956: Arab Inltration, Israeli
Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993);
Zeev Drory, Israels Reprisal Policy, 19531956 (London: Frank Cass 2004); Avi
Kober, From Blitzkrieg to Attrition: Israels Attrition Strategy and Staying Power,
Small Wars and Insurgencies 16/2 (2005), 21640; Jonathan Shimshoni, Israel and
Conventional Deterrence: Border Warfare from 1953 to 1970 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP
1988); Efraim Inbar, Israels Small War: The Military Response to the Intifada,Armed
Forces & Society 18/1 (1991), 2950; Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari, Intifada: The
Palestinian Uprising Israels Third Front (Tel Aviv: Schocken 1990); Sergio
Catignani, Israeli Counter-Insurgency and the Intifadas: Dilemmas of a Conventional
Army (New York: Routledge 2008).
5
Sergio Catignani, The Strategic Impasse in Low-Intensity Conicts: The Gap between
Israeli Counter-Insurgency Strategy and Tactics during the Al-Aqsa Intifada,Journal of
Strategic Studies 28/1 (2005), 70; Dag Henriksen, Deterrence by Default? Israels
Military Strategy in the 2006 War against Hizballah,Journal of Strategic Studies
35/1 (Feb. 2012), 95120; Raphaelle L. Camilleri, Examining the Paradox of Israels
Unrealized Power: The Conceptual and Structural Sources of IsraelsStrategic
Decit”’, Paper presented at the International Study Association 53rd Meeting, San
Diego, CA, 2 April 2012.
2Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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is repeatedly mentioned as major aw.
6
In a similar vein, Israel has been
criticized for not placing a greater emphasis on a hearts and minds
strategy or on diplomatic measures.
7
Another prevalent criticism is that
Israels use of force is not successful in producing deterrence, or that it
is doomed to failbecause non-state entities are not deterrable.
8
In addi-
tion, it is often asserted that Israel fails to attain its goals. For example, an
analysis of Operation Cast-Leadin Gaza (200809) concludes that it
achieved nothing but a shaky ceasere.
9
Accounts of the 2006 war
postulate a failure in fostering domestic anger on Hizballah to weaken its
position in Lebanon.
10
In the absence of a perceived logic or utility in
Israels 2006 Lebanon War, some analysts even asserted that Israel was
primarily motivated by revenge, seeking emotional satisfaction at the
suffering of another.
11
This article argues that the much of this literature misunderstands
Israels rationale for using military force, and has failed to realize the
changes that took place in Israels threat assessment and strategic
thinking. Israels approach in the twenty-rst century is often termed
Mowing the Grass,
12
a new term in Israels strategic parlance that
6
Catignani, The Strategic Impasse in Low-Intensity Conicts, 72. See also Zeev Maoz,
Evaluating Israels Strategy of Low-Intensity Warfare, 19492006,Security Studies
16/3 (July 2007); Daniel Byman, Curious Victory: Explaining Israels Suppression of
the Second Intifada,Terrorism and Political Violence 24/5 (2012), 8379.
7
Niccolò Petrelli, Deterring Insurgents: Culture, Adaptation and the Evolution of Israeli
Counterinsurgency, 19872005,Journal of Strategic Studies 36/5 (Oct. 2013), 744;
see also Maoz, Evaluating Israels Strategy of Low-Intensity Warfare, 19492006.
8
Maoz, Evaluating Israels Strategy of Low-Intensity Warfare, 19492006, 346;
Emanuel Adler, Dammed if you do, Dammed if you dont: Performative Power and
the Strategy of Conventional and Nuclear Diffusing,Security Studies 19/2 (AprilJune
2010), 210.
9
Sergio Catignani, Variation on a Theme: Israels Operation Cast Lead and the Gaza
Strip Missile Conundrum,RUSI Journal 154/4 (2009), 6673.
10
Evan Braden Montgomery and Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Democratization, Instability, and
War: Israels2006Conicts with Hamas and Hezbollah,Security Studies 19/3 (Aug.
2010), 554; Patrick Porter, Military Orientalism (New York: Columbia UP 2009), 186.
11
Oded Lowenheim and Gadi Heimann, Revenge in International Politics,Security
Studies 17/4 (Dec. 2008), 710.
12
IDF ofcers often use the phrase mowing the grass, usually in a tactical sense. A recent
example is a brieng for academics by senior ofcers in the Central Command,
20 Feb. 2013. See also <http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4340652,00.html>and
the IDF website: Did We Beat Palestinian Terror?,<http://www.idf.il/1613-15468-he/
Dover.aspx>. The use of this term, nonexistent in any IDF doctrinal document, is typical
of the organizational culture in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which allows the use of
informal operational and doctrinal concepts. On the IDFs informal culture, see Dima
Adamsky, The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the
Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the US, and Israel (Stanford UP 2010), 111;
Eitan Shamir, Transforming Command: The Pursuit of Mission Command in the US,
British, and Israeli Armies (Stanford UP 2011), 83.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 3
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reects the assumption that Israel nds itself in protracted intractable
conict with extremely hostile non-state entities, which is qualitatively
different from an inter-state conict. The use of force is therefore not
intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather to debilitate the
capabilities of the enemy to harm Israel. Realizing the difculties in
affecting the behavior of radical ideological non-state actors, Israels use
of force can achieve only temporary deterrence. Therefore, Israel has
adopted a patient military strategy of attrition designed primarily to
destroy the enemy capabilities. Only after absorbing a series of attacks
and showing much restraint in its offensive actions does Israel act
forcefully to destroy the capabilities of its foes, hoping that occasional
large-scale operations will also have a temporary deterrent effect in
order to create periods of quiet along its borders. Signicantly, the
Mowing the Grassapproach is substantively different from the current
Western strategic thinking on dealing with non-state military
challenges.
This article begins with a presentation of Israels dominant strategic
perspective during the twenty-rst century a protracted intractable
conict. Subsequently, it analyzes the military dimension of Israel com-
bating terror and guerrilla warfare against ever more sophisticated
organizations. Finally, the 2002, 2006, 2008-09 and 2012 rounds of
large-scale violence serve as case studies, demonstrating Israels new
Mowing the Grassapproach in the twenty-rst century.
The Strategic Dimension of Mowing the Grass
In the past, Israels national security doctrine was shaped by its stark
geostrategic position and demographics a small nation surrounded by
many implacable enemies. Aware of this predicament, David Ben-Gurion,
Israelsrst prime minister, devised Israels security doctrine based on
two basic assumptions:
(1) Arab hostility towards the State of Israel is likely to continue for
decades;
(2) Israel suffers from chronic inferiority in both territory and
demographics.
The basic asymmetry in resources, combined with Arab hostility, led
him to conclude that Israel is not able to dictate a peace treaty to its
neighbors not even by the use of overwhelming force. Ben-Gurion
recognized that Israels military superiority could not transcend
deeply-rooted enmity, accepting the fact that Israels use of force
4Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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had inherent limitations.
13
Yet, military force could be useful to create
enough deterrence to erode the statesmotivation of its foes and to
extend the time between the rounds of violence. Therefore, only a long
and violent struggle, punctuated by decisive battleeld victories, could
eventually lead Arab states to accept the notion of Israels permanence.
14
Indeed, almost 100 years of conict and repeated military defeats, as
well as changes in the threat perception of the Arab leaders, brought
about a transformation in their views toward Israel. Egypt signed a
peace treaty with Israel in 1979,
15
as did Jordan in 1994, while most of
the Arab world subscribes to the 2002 Arab League Peace Initiative.
Today, the so-called Arab Springthat has seriously challenged the
Arab state and negatively affected its military capabilities, further wea-
kened the statist dimension of the Arab-Israeli conict.
Israels strategic landscape during the 1990s and 2000s had
witnessed a gradual shift from threats originating in the conventional
military might of states to challenges from armed non-state orga-
nizations.
16
(Iran, who is neither Arab nor a neighbor of Israel,
poses a potential nuclear challengeofadifferentmagnitude,andis
an exception that requires a separate treatment.) The upheavals in the
Arab world since 2010 are conducive to the proliferation of such non-
state organizations as Arab states lose control over their territories
and national arsenals. Moreover, the ascendance of political Islam in
the Arab world buttresses the ideological opposition to Israel of such
non-state groups.
In contrast to the Arab states, organizations such as Hamas, Islamic
Jihad or Hizballah cling to a radical Islamist ideology denying Israels
right to exist. They adhere to a doctrine of resistance Muqawama
that assures its adherents that the long, historic, currently difcult
struggle against Israel will eventually end in victory, despite temporary
setbacks. The strategic goal is to demonstrate continuous violent resis-
tance and keep the historic struggle against the Zionist entity alive at a
time when the Arab states seem to have given up on the goal of
13
David Ben-Gurion, Uniqueness and Singularity: Discussions on Israels Security
(Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Maarachot 1971), 207, 369.
14
For the evolution of Israels strategic thinking and culture, see Avner Yaniv, Politics
and Strategy in Israel (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Sifriat Hapoalim 1994); Adamsky, The
Culture of Military Innovation, 11019.
15
The Egyptian decision was due to several factors including the desire to adopt a a pro-
American foreign policy orientation and the fact that the 1973 war allowed it to regain
its dignity.
16
Efraim Inbar, Israels Strategic Environment in the 1990s,Journal of Strategic
Studies 25/1 (March 2002), 378; Hemda Ben-Yehuda and Shmuel Sandler, The
Arab-Israeli Conict Transformed: Fifty Years of Interstate and Ethnic Crises
(Albany, NY: SUNY Press 2002), 16779.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 5
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destroying the Jewish state. Moreover, they believe that time is on their
side as Israel will eventually disappear as a result of the protracted
struggle.
17
Under such circumstances, Israels perspective on the statist dimen-
sion of the Arab-Israeli conict was projected on the new reality. The
non-state organizations are implacable enemies, who want to destroy
the Jewish state and there is very little Israel can do on the political front
to mitigate this risk. While there is a distant hope that these extremist
organizations will evolve along the Palestinian Liberation Organization
(PLO) trajectory that shifted from armed struggle to the political arena
allowing for political engagement, Israels superior military power is
incapable of coercing a change in their basic attitudes in the short term.
The breakout of a Palestinian terror campaign in September 2000 put
an end to Israeli illusions about having a Palestinian peace partner,
while the Arab Springthat underscored the ascendance of Islamist
movements with a radical anti-Israeli (and anti-Western) ideology
painted the regional picture with great hostility.
18
Israel realizes that it cannot affect the motivation of the non-state
actors such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizballah to ght the
Jewish State in the short run, and that producing deterrence against
them is problematic. Yet, its use of force could reduce the military
capabilities of the non-state actors in order to lower the damage caused
to Israel. It just mows the grassof the enemy capabilities, with no
ambition to solve the conict. It also attempts to achieve some deter-
rence to extend the time between the rounds of violence. Periods of
tranquility are important for Israel because its mere existence is a
success over its radical non-state enemies and sends them a constant
reminder that their destructive goals are not within reach. The longer
the absence of violence along its borders, the lower the price Israel pays
for being engaged in such a protracted conict. Ironically, Mowing the
Grassmirrors the patient Arab Muqawamah strategy.
17
On Islamist resistance, see Ehud Yaari, The Muqawama Doctrine, The Washington
Institute, 13 Nov. 2006, <www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-muqa-
wama-doctrine>; Michael Milstein, The Challenge of al-Muqawama (Resistance) to
Israel,Strategic Assessment 12/4 (Feb. 2010). Their behavior is reminiscent of the role
assumed by Palestinian terrorist groups after the defeat of the Arab states in 1967. See
Yehoshafat Harkabi, Arab Strategies and Israels Response (New York: The Free Press
1977), 6377; Barry Rubin, Revolution until Victory. The Politics and History of the
PLO (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP Press 1994), 223.
18
For Israeli large consensus that conict resolution is not around the corner, see The
Peace Index, <http://en.idi.org.il/tools-and-data/guttman-center-for-surveys/the-peace-
index/>; and Yehuda Ben-Meir and Olena Bagno-Moldavsky, The Voice of the
People:Israeli Public Opinion on National Security, 2012, Memorandum 126 (Tel
Aviv: INSS, March 2013).
6Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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Israels approach to its present foes differs signicantly from the
approaches taught in Western military academies, which offer
two basic schools of thought on coping with non-state armed groups,
often referred to as insurgencies.
19
The rst approach enemy
centric suggests that a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign is
fundamentally not different from conventional war, where the main
effort is on neutralizing the armed units by locating and engaging
them. (A war is war is a war,asoneAmericanofcer wrote.
20
)
If fought correctly it is possible to vanquish the enemy force. The
second approach population centric focuses on gaining the sup-
port of the civilian population (winning hearts and minds)inorder
to deprive the insurgents of their main source of support. Yet, the
evidence for the success of the hearts and mindsapproach in the
many arenas of the world is questionable.
21
The debates over
the best approach for attaining success by the US-led coalition in
IraqandNATOinAfghanistanwerecarriedmostlywithinthe
context of these two approaches. For example, the joint US Army
and Marines FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency has advocated a popula-
tion centric approach,
22
while the way US forces operated in
Vietnam exemplies the alternative enemy centric approach.
23
In the twenty-rst century, Israel is not aiming for victory or for
ending the conict; it realizes that radical ideologies cannot be defeated
on the battleeld. In contrast to other Western powers, Israel has also
refrained from winning the hearts and minds of the Arab insurgents.
The ethno-national, cultural and religious gaps between Jews and Arab
are simply too large to allow for a strategy aiming for ending the
conict by persuading the opponents that peaceful coexistence is pre-
ferable. Despite the quest for regional acceptance, Israel understands
that it will be impossible to bridge the hostility and suspicions of Arabs
towards Jews. This attitude was reinforced by the failure of the Oslo
Peace Process with the Palestinians that became apparent with the
outbreak of the hostilities in 2000.
19
See Colin Kahl, COIN of the Realm,Foreign Affairs 86/6 (Nov./Dec. 2007), 4724;
John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from
Malaya and Vietnam (Univ. of Chicago Press 2002), 278; Mark Moyer, A Question
of Command, COIN from Civil War to Iraq (New Haven, CT: Yale UP 2009), 24.
20
Harry G. Summers, A War is War is a War, in Loren B. Thompson (ed.), Low
Intensity Conict: The Pattern of Warfare in the Modern World (Lexington, MA:
Lexington Books 1989).
21
See Robert Egnell, Winning Hearts and Minds? A Critical Analysis of Counter-
Insurgency Operations in Afghanistan,Civil Wars 12/3 (2010), 282303.
22
Department of the Army, FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency (Washington
DC 2006), 51.
23
Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife,278.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 7
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Israel shied away from adopting a population centric approach when
it ruled over Arabs in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), Gaza and
southern Lebanon. It basically viewed its military presence as tempor-
ary until a political settlement was available.
24
Moreover, Israel, with
very few exceptions, did not entertain the illusion that it could generate
sympathy from the Arab occupied population. This did not prevent it
from developing a stick and carrot system for minimizing violent oppo-
sition and for fostering pragmatic cooperation with the local leadership.
For example, following the 1967 War Moshe Dayan promoted the
Open Bridgespolicy with Jordan and a degree of economic integration
policy with Israel.
25
Following its experiences in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, fully
aware of the limits of a population centric approach, Israel even pur-
sued a policy of disengagement from territories inhabited by hostile
populations. The Oslo peace process with the Palestinians was fueled
by the desire to part from territories populated by Arabs. Israel with-
drew unilaterally from southern Lebanon in May 2000; built a security
barrier in the West Bank in 2002, signaling disengagement from the
main Palestinian population centers and marking a potential future
border; and evacuated its civil and military presence from Gaza in
August 2005. Yet, in the areas that are regarded by Israel as critical
for its security such as the West Bank Israel maintains some military
presence, but avoids the burden associated with a civilian administra-
tion. This approach maintains a separation between Israel proper and
the hostile population beyond its border.
The Military Dimension of Mowing the Grass
The objective in Israels past conventional wars was usually battleeld
decision, meaning the destruction of the opponents capacity effectively
tocontinue ghting. It clearly preferred blitzkriegs. This preference
conformed to what the German military historian Hans Delbrück
(18481929) termed a strategy of annihilation, in contrast to a strategy
24
Israel has refrained from annexing the West Bank and the political power of the
Greater Israelideology has greatly diminished. Every poll shows that over two thirds
of the Israelis are ready for partition. Moreover, the establishment of the Palestinian
Authority in 1994 is a de facto partition, albeit a messy one.
25
Moshe Dayan, Israels defense minister at that time, allowed free movement of goods
and people between the West Bank and Jordan, despite the fact that formally a state of
war existed between Israel and Jordan. See Eitan Shamir, From Retaliation to Open
Bridges: Moshe Dayans Evolving Approach toward the Population in Counter
Insurgency,Civil Wars 14/1 (2012), 6379.
8Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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of attrition.
26
Yet, despite its predilection for short and decisive wars,
Israel also waged wars of attrition.
27
This latter strategy is designed to
wear down the enemy through constant, relentless pressure. It stresses
the cumulative effect to be obtained during the course of a prolonged
sequence of intermittent military actions, none of which of itself need be
regarded as decisive in the attainment of the political objectives.
Therefore, it was not out of character to adapt itself to the new enemies
in the twenty-rst century and to opt for a patient strategy of attri-
tion.
28
Mowing the Grass can be characterized as an anti-Muqawama
strategy, which contains traditional elements of Israels military modus
operandi, such as retaliatory raids and preemptive strikes.
While Israel hoped that in the long run organizations such as Hamas
or Hizballah could transform into less belligerent entities or wither
away, it did not entertain any hope that in the short run they could
become partners for a political dialogue, due to Israeli military actions.
Therefore, the military activity against such organizations is taking
place within a strategy of attrition and has only limited goals.
29
The non-state militiasdesire is to inict pain on Israel and test its
resolve. Harming Israel and denying it a decisive victory is all they want
for the time being on the tactical level.
30
They hide among civilians and
use a combination of methods, including terror, suicide bombings and
guerrilla tactics. Moreover, they launch rockets at Israels population
centers.
31
The challenge from the non-state organizations is greatly
amplied by the support they receive from states, such as Iran. This
primarily means better training and access to advanced weaponry.
Israel does not respond automatically to acts of aggression against it.
The timing and scope of its reaction is subject to the nature of the
provocation, the damage and casualties experienced, and political
26
Hans Delbrück, A History of the Art of War, Vol. 4 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press
1985), 293315.
27
Avi Kober, Israels Wars of Attrition: Attrition Challenges to Democratic States (New
York: Routledge 2009).
28
For the need of a long term strategy of attrition, see Col. Shay Shabtay, The War
after the Next War: The Era of Protracted Conicts,Maarachot, No. 440 (Dec. 2011),
49.
29
Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, Lecture presented at The Limitation of the Use of Military
Force: Strategic, Moral and Legal Considerations,Joint Conference of the IDC and
National Security College, Herzliya, 23 Jan. 2013.
30
On the development of military doctrine of these organizations, see Itai Brun, While
Youre Busy Making Other Plans The OtherRMA,Journal of Strategic Studies
33/4 (2010), 53565.
31
Uzi Rubin, From Nuisance to Strategic Threat: The Missile Attacks from the Gaza
Strip on Southern Israel (Hebrew), Studies in Middle East Security No. 87 (Ramat-Gan:
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Feb. 2011).
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 9
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considerations, such as the international atmosphere and domestic
circumstances. Fear of casualties has been also a factor.
32
This leads to a preference for short responses primarily from the air
where Israel has overwhelming superiority and escalation dominance.
33
Israels air force, in cooperation with the intelligence agencies, has over
the years perfected its methods for hunting rocket launchers and tar-
geted killing.
34
Israel was successful in decreasing the limited collateral
damage of such pinpoint attacks, lowering international criticism.
Targeted killing is an important element of the military dimension, as
replacing skilled personnel in terrorist organizations is not easy and
takes time. Key personnel such as bomb makers, trainers, document
forgers, recruiters and leaders are both scarce in number and require
many months if not years to perfect their skills.
35
Generally, the more
sophisticated and technological the non-state organization becomes, the
more time it needs to restore lost capabilities.
Another element in the Mowing the Grassapproach is preventive
actions, such as the interdiction of supply of advanced weaponry to
Hizballah and Hamas, usually not formally acknowledged by Israel.
36
Covert operations against overseas intelligence and nancial networks
are part of this routine as well. Apprehending terrorist operatives by
preventive arrests for disrupting attacks or collecting intelligence is also
part of the repertoire, primarily in the West Bank.
Only after a series of aggressions not prevented by Israels sporadic
retaliatory use of limited force does the IDF commence larger-scale
operations that might include a ground invasion. Israels large-scale
operations (analyzed below) were conducted with limited political
objectives. Despite the high price the IDF tries to inict upon the
enemy, it does not expect to see either a new moderate leadership
emerge or a qualitative reduction in the basic motivation to ght
32
Efraim Inbar, How Israel Bungled the Second Lebanon War,Middle East Quarterly
19/3 (Summer 2007), 61; Udi Lebel, Militarism versus Security? The Double-Bind of
Israels Culture of Bereavement and Hierarchy of Sensitivity to Loss,Mediterranean
Politics 16/3 (Oct. 2011), 36584.
33
For the term escalation dominance, see Herman Kahn, On Escalation: Metaphors
and Scenarios (Baltimore: Penguin Books 1968), 290.
34
Steven R. David, Fatal Choices: Israels Policy of Targeted Killing, Mideast Security
and Policy Studies, No. 51 (Ramat-Gan: Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies,
Sept. 2002).
35
Byman, Curious Victory: Explaining Israels Suppression of the Second
Intifada, 838.
36
For example Israel attacked from the air in Sudan weapon convoys to Hamas in Feb.
2009 and Oct. 2012; in Syria in Jan. 2013 and May 2013 weapons on their way to
Hizballah.
10 Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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Israel. Therefore, as only temporary deterrence is achieved, another
round of violence is anticipated in the future.
The main objective of the large-scale military operation is to cripple
severely the military capabilities of the non-state organization.
37
The
elimination of weapons accumulated over time, such as rockets, and of
qualied personnel gives Israel some respite. As noted lengthy truces are
important strategically. Moreover, Israel uses this time to learn from its
past mistakes and to hone its own military skills. For example, it needed
time to develop and deploy the Iron Dome system against short-range
rockets, denying its enemies some of their offensive capabilities. This
strengthened deterrence by denial.
38
So did the security barrier in the
West Bank.
Yet, large-scale operations do not prevent subsequent rearmament
and build-up, which necessitates the continuation of Mowing the
Grass. There is also reluctance to put boots on the ground. A ground
invasion might increase Israeli casualties; it entails friction with a hostile
civilian population and causes civilian casualties; and it extends the
duration of the operation, which might attract international criticism.
Therefore, Israel reserves the use of ground invasion only in response to
grave provocations or in cases where only ground troops can achieve
the desired result. At the same time, the threat of a ground invasion is
held for increasing the credibility of deterrence.
Indeed, Mowing the Grassis also intended to have a deterrent
effect.
39
Deterrence aims to persuade a potential enemy that he should
in his own interest avoid certain courses of activity.
40
While Mowing
the Grassoperations are primarily designed to inict damage on valu-
able assets and capabilities, a corollary effect is lowering the motivation
of the enemy to harm Israel.
41
Past evidence shows that Arab actions
decrease in response to Israeli actions.
42
In Israels thinking, the concept
37
Interviews with senior IDF ofcers.
38
See Glenn H. Snyder, Deterrence and Defense, in Robert J. Art and Kenneth
N. Waltz (eds), The Use of Force (New York: Lanham 1983), 1334.
39
Col. Eran Ortal Is the IDF Capable of a Conceptual Breakthrough?Maarachot, No.
447 (Feb. 2013), 228.
40
Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
UP1960) 9.
41
Hillel Frisch, Motivation or Capabilities? Israeli Counterterrorism against
Palestinian Suicide Bombings and Violence,Journal of Strategic Studies 29/5
(Oct. 2006), 84369.
42
See inter alia, Alex Mintz and Bruce Russett, The Dual Economy and Arab-Israeli
Use of Force: A Transnational System?in Steve Chan and Alex Mintz (eds), Defence,
Welfare, and Growth (London: Routledge Kegan Paul 1992), 17996; Christopher
Sprecher and Karl DeRouen, Jr, Israeli Military Actions and Internalization-
Externalization Processes,Journal of Conict Resolution 46/2 (April 2002), 24459.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 11
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of deterrence is not understood as absolute deterrence, but rather as
cumulative deterrence.
43
Cumulative deterrence aims to postpone each
round of violence as much as possible, but as long as fundamental
political realities persist, deterrence might fail at one point or another.
44
Destruction and denial of capabilities serves to strengthendeterrence.
45
Using force is much like ghting crime; it is not a sign of deterrence
failure but necessary for the maintenance of a minimum level of deter-
rence.
46
The history of wars is, according to Colin Gray, a history of
deterrence failure, but the use of force, both by the state and by its
adversaries, may not be a sign of failure; it may be a precondition for
success.
47
However, the validity of deterrence in asymmetrical wars is ques-
tionable as a result of the complexity of structural conditions it pre-
sents. This calculus changes, however, when non-state actors take over
territory and act as de facto governments. Hizballah and Hamas, after
taking control of Lebanon in 2005 and Gaza in 2007 respectively, are
facing new dilemmas, and seem more likely to be deterred by Israels
use of force. The Israeli dilemma in the face of growing capabilities
suggests that there might be a need for stronger retaliatory measures,
as some Israeli strategists suggest.
48
So far, Israel refrained from
adopting what is called the Dahya concept,which advocates the
threat and/or use of disproportionate force in order to enhance
deterrence.
49
In sum, Mowing the Grasshas limited political objectives, while
attempting to target the enemiesmilitary capabilities and freedom of
action. It forces the opponents to make the investment in time and
treasure for defense and to rebuild lost capabilities. It also acts with
deterrence in mind, demonstrating the price involved in continuous
conict.
43
Israel Tal, National Security: The Few Against the Many (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Dvir
1996), 6188.
44
Doron Almog, Cumulative Deterrence and the War on Terrorism,Parameters 34/4
(Winter 200405), 8.
45
Robert Pape, Bombing to Win: Airpower and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
UP 1996).
46
Thomas Rid, Deterrence beyond the State: The Israeli Experience,Contemporary
Security Policy 33/1 (2012), 1269.
47
Colin Gray, Deterrence and the Nature of Strategy, in Max G. Manwarning (ed.),
Deterrence in the 21st Century (London: Routledge 2001), 19.
48
Giora Eiland, The Third Lebanon War: Target Lebanon,Strategic Assessment 11/2
(Nov. 2008), 917; Ron Tira, Breaking the Amoebas Bones,Strategic Assessment 9/3
(Nov. 2006).
49
For the debate, see Jean-Loup Saman, The Dahya Concept and Israeli Military
Posture vis-à-vis Hezbollah Since 2006,Comparative Strategy 32 (2013), 14659.
12 Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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The Twenty-First Century Experience of the IDF
This section analyzes the large scale military operations of Israel in the
twenty-rst century: Defensive Shieldcampaign in the West Bank in
2002, the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Operation Cast Leadin Gaza
in 200809, and Pillar of Defensein Gaza in 2012. All were conducted
in the Mowing the Grassmode. The differences reect Israels learning
curve and changing political circumstances. Moreover, the IDF inter-
nalized the failures of Operations Accountability(July 1993) and
Grapes of Wrath(April 1996) in Southern Lebanon that did not
focus on eliminating the military capabilities of Hizballah, and that
hoped that the heavy use of re would create deterrence. The following
sections examine the context, the objectives, the operational perfor-
mance and the results of these operations. Despite the differences
among them, they all share a similar logic, the disruption and disloca-
tion of capabilities leading to a weakening of the rival organization and
to a period of recuperation. The West Bank is somewhat of an excep-
tion because Israel was able to regain control over the entire area and to
prevent re-armament until the Palestinian leadership made the decision
to embark on a non-violent struggle.
Operation Defensive Shield
Operation Defensive Shield(29 March21 April 2002) was launched
following a long Palestinian campaign of terror against civilians within
Israel, particularly suicide attacks that started at the end of September
2000. By the start of 2002, 244 Israelis were killed and hundreds more
injured in nearly 7,000 terrorist attacks.
50
Israels military response was
initially very restrained because it regarded the Palestinian Authority
(PA) as a peace partner, and because of the Pavlovian instinct of the
international community to call for restraint. Moreover, it took time to
move from a cooperative mode to a confrontational one with the
Palestinians. Rebuilding its intelligence assets also took time.
The trigger for Operation Defensive Shieldwas the terrorist attack
on the Park Hotel on 27 March 2002 that killed 30 Israelis and
wounded an additional 140. The Palestinian terror campaign elicited
much sympathy for Israel, granting international and domestic legiti-
macy for a strong military riposte. Moreover, military action was seen
as a necessity following a peace process that offered the Palestinians
50
Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet), Palestinian Terrorism in 2007 Statistics and
Trends.Terrorist attacksinclude the following: throwing of Molotov cocktails, stab-
bing, running over by car, torching, hurling grenades, abduction, anti-tank re, stone
throwing, mortar re, rocket re, suicide attack, blowing up of cars laden with explo-
sives, inltration, laying of explosive charge, and assault.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 13
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tremendous concessions to no avail. The IDF invaded almost all the
major cities in the West Bank that had been under the control of the PA
since the Oslo Accords. It used many regular formations and a limited
number of reservists.
The political objective of Defensive Shieldwas to create a different
security reality for Israel.
51
The IDF aimed at gaining security control
of the West Bank without the necessity to administer the population.
52
Lieutenant General (res.) Moshe (Bogi) Yaalon, then the IDF Deputy
Chief of Staff said: The military rationale for the operation was to
regain the security responsibility in the West Bankin order to stop the
terror attacks.
53
Israel had no plans to change the PA or its leadership
in any way. More and more Israelis recognized that they were locked in
a protracted intractable conict with the Palestinians whose goals are
incompatible with Israels.
54
The military goal, in the framework of Mowing the Grass,was to
dismantle the terror infrastructure through systematic destruction of
weapons caches, bomb-making laboratories, headquarters, training
camps and the capturing and killing of militants. During the operation,
the IDF killed almost 500 terrorists and arrested 7,000, of whom 1,500
remained in detention. The intelligence gathered was useful in disrupt-
ing additional Palestinian terrorism. Operationally, the IDF engaged in
big encirclements led by infantry and supported by tanks, engineers,
special forces and attack helicopters.
Defensive Shieldmarked the beginning of the end of the
Palestinian terrorist campaign. Suicide bombings continued for a
while, but the number of successful attacks fell dramatically by
2004.
55
The Israeli offensive combined with defensive measures,
51
Gal Hirsh, From Solid Lidto Other Way: Campaign Development in Central
Command 20002003, in Haggai Golan and Shaul Shay (eds), Low Intensity Conict
(Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Maarachot 2004), 246. Hirsh, the Operations Ofcer (G3) of
Central Command at that time, named the operation Defensive Shield, evoking
the need to create a shield between the terrorists and population. See Gal Hirsh,
War Story Love Story (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot 2009),174.
52
Ibid. See also Sergio Catignani, The Security Imperative in Counterterror Operations:
The Israeli Fight against Suicidal Terror,Terrorism and Political Violence 17/12
(2005), 256.
53
Moshe Yaalon, The Longer Shorter Way (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot
2008), 137.
54
Palestinian terrorism during the second Intifada was a turning point in Israels public
opinion on the Palestinian issue.
55
Frisch, Motivation or Capabilities?, 849, 852; Byman, Curious Victory, 830.
14 Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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such as the security barrier, proved very effective in eliminating the
suicide bombing threat.
56
Because of the proximity of the West Bank to Israels heartland, the
JerusalemTel AvivHaifa triangle, Israel could not disengage totally
from this territory, which turned into a base of terror under the PA rule.
Therefore, following the operation the IDF retained military control
over large parts of this area. This presence allowed the IDF to continue
to ght effectively against the emerging terrorist threats to this very day.
It continues Mowing the Grassprimarily by preventive arrests.
Unfortunately, the motivation of parts of the Palestinian society to
attack Israel is still very strong.
Operation Defensive Shielddemonstrated that terrorists and insur-
gents can be overpowered by conventional armies, contrary to what
many pundits were preaching.
57
Signicantly, the level of Palestinian
terror was only gradually diminished by additional Israeli military
measures. This was an important lesson for the IDF. Similarly impor-
tant was the realization that Mowing the Grasswas needed to keep the
terrorist challenge at a bearable level.
The Second Lebanon War
Hizballah provocations since May 2000 (the date of Israels unilateral
withdrawal from Lebanon) included several crossings into Israels ter-
ritory to abduct Israeli soldiers. Moreover, Hizballah established a
burgeoning missile arsenal capable of covering most of Israel. The
2006 Lebanon War (12 July14 August 2006) was a reaction to a
rocket barrage against Israeli military and civilian targets used as a
diversion for a successful abduction of two Israeli soldiers and the
killing of three others. The Hizballah attack came just 19 days after
Palestinian militants staged a similar cross-border raid from Gaza,
56
Frisch, Motivation or Capabilities?,860864.
57
For example, Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna (res.), GOC Central Command at the out-
break of the rst Intifada, said on a few occasions that it was impossible to arrive at a
military decision in a confrontation with terrorist organizations; see quotes in Zaki
Shalom and Yoaz Hendel, The Unique Features of the Second Intifada,Military and
Strategic Affairs 3/1 (May 2011), 223 and note 5. Former head of the Israel Security
Agency Ami Ayalon (19962000), argued that War against terrorism isnot a eeting
battle that ends in either victory or defeat.Quoted in Catignani, The Security
Imperative in Counterterror Operations, 257. Col. Yehuda Vagman quotes a similar
opinion expressed by Likud Party Member of the Knesset Yuval Steinitz in The Trap of
Low Intensity Conict, Ariel Center for Policy Research, White Paper No. 149 (2003),
11. For the debate within the military over the issue; see response to Vagman in Col.
Shmuel (Semo) Nir, There is No Trap,Maarachot, No. 387 (Jan. 2003), 6870.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 15
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during which the soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, signaling to many
in Israel a serious deterrence failure.
The enunciated strategic goals of the Israeli military operations were
not very modest. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned driving
Hizballah out of southern Lebanon, the deployment of the Lebanese
army in that area, restoring deterrence and the return of the kidnapped
soldiers. The military concurred,
58
and it suggested exerting strong
pressure on the Lebanese government by extensively damaging
Lebanese infrastructure from the air to force the government to deal
with Hizballah. Elements in the IDF also argued that the heavy damage
might decrease the domestic legitimacy of Hizballah and its freedom of
action to provoke Israel.
59
For a variety of reasons, including US support for the Fouad Siniora
government in Lebanon, Israel decided to limit its attacks to Hizballah
targets, effectively adopting a modest goal. Moreover, Israel realized
that Hizballah was a well-rooted organization in Lebanese society
whose character and political clout cannot be easily affected.
The IDF was ordered to destroy Hizballahs long-range rocket
launchers and to damage the organizations launch capability, attack
its soldiers, commands, and infrastructure, strike its symbols and assets,
and destroy Hizballah infrastructures next to the Israeli border in order
to establish a special security zone.
60
Colonel Gur Laish, head of
the Campaign Planning Department in the Israel Air Force (IAF),
summarized the Israeli strategy in 2006 as a heavy assault against
Hizballah its military assets, the center of the government and its
deployment in Beirut, and its communal infrastructure in south
Lebanon.
61
Brigadier General Gal Hirsh, who commanded the division
that carried out the brunt of the ghting in 2006, understood the
objectives of the war in a similar way, the aim of the maneuver into
Lebanon is not to eliminate [rocket] launches but to directly hit
Hizballah, to make it pay a high price and to shake its foundations.
62
In contrast to the criticism voiced, Israels strategy was neither
58
Itai Brun, The Second Lebanon War, 2006, in John Andreas Olsen (ed.), A History
of Air Warfare (Washington DC: Potomac Books 2010), 302-3. See also Dani Haloutz,
Straightforward (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot 2010), 3645. The IDF often
denes the concrete objectives of the war as a result of ambiguous civilian directives. See
Kobi Michael,The Israel Defense Forces as an Epistemic Authority: An Intellectual
Challenge in the Reality of the Israeli-Palestinian Conict,Journal of Strategic Studies,
30/3 (May 2007), 421-46.
59
Brun, The Second Lebanon War, 305.
60
Ibid.
61
Gur Laish, The Second Lebanon War A Strategic Reappraisal,Innity Journal
4 (Fall 2011), 23.
62
Hirsh, War Story Love Story, 240.
16 Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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attempting to target civilian infrastructure, nor planning to pressure the
population to rise against Hizballah.
The 2006 war began with a massive and successful air attack on the
long-range missiles of Hizballah. Some in the defense establishment
thought that no additional action was necessary. Subsequent limited
ground incursions near the borer indeed appeared ineffective.
Moreover, the failure to halt the ring of short- and mid-range rockets
into Israel, the hesitations to commit troops for a large-scale ground
offensive and the indecisive way the war ended all contributed to
the widespread perception that Israel was militarily ill-prepared and
botched the war.
63
According to a UN report, 1,191 Lebanese civilians were killed and
4,405 were wounded in the war. About 900,000 Lebanese ed their
homes and nearly 30,000 residential units were destroyed or extensively
damaged.
64
Israel evaluated 700 Hizballah ghters to be killed and over
1,000 wounded a high price for a militia consisting of 3,0004,000
professionally-trained ghters, many of them highly-skilled and trained
by Iran. In addition, the symbol of Hizballahs rule in Lebanon, its
headquarters in Beirut, was severely damaged. Israel destroyed most
Hizballah positions on its border, including several fortied under-
ground facilities, and a large part of its rocket arsenal. The Shiite
villages where Hizballah built strongholds similarly endured severe
damage. Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah went into hiding
for two years following the war, fearing an Israeli attempt on his life.
He admitted that he would not have ordered the abduction of Israeli
soldiers had he known its price.
65
Israel paid a moderate price for the 2006 Lebanon War. The
economic damage was bearable and the stock market remained bullish.
Its casualties were 144 killed (121 of them soldiers) killed and about
2,000 wounded (660 of them soldiers). Yet its vulnerability to missile
attacks became clear. To some extent, the war also amplied the inter-
national misperception of Israeli excessive use of force. UN Resolution
1701 seemed at the time the right exit strategy, but did not drastically
63
See Avi Kober, The Israel Defense Forces in the Second Lebanon War: Why the Poor
Performance?,Journal of Strategic Studies 31/1 (Feb. 2008), 46; Inbar, How Israel
Bungled the Second Lebanon War; Benjamin S. Lambeth, Israels War in Gaza: A
Paradigm of Effective Military Learning and Adaptation,International Security 37/2
(Fall 2012), 8591.
64
United Nations Environment Program Lebanon Post-Conict Environmental
Assessment, <http://postconict.unep.ch/publications.php?prog=lebanon>.
65
Hizballah chief revisits raid,Washington Post, 28 Aug. 2006.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 17
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change the state of affairs in southern Lebanon that continued to be
under Hizballah control. Despite its success in Mowing the Grassin
Lebanon, the IDF obviously needed to rethink its military doctrine and
organization.
66
Since the war ended, Hizballah has been rebuilding its military
strength, acquiring many more missiles capable of hitting every point
in Israel. However, the 2006 Israeli response appears to have strength-
ened Israeli deterrence against Hizballah. In addition, Israeli covert
operations against the terror group, as well as the increasing
Hizballah involvement in Syria, have kept Israels border with
Lebanon mostly quiet until today.
Operation Cast Lead
The decision to launch Operation Cast Lead(27 December 200821
January 2009) was made following a long period of escalation in rock-
ets and mortars red towards Israels civilian communities from
Gaza.
67
Overall, since Israels unilateral disengagement from Gaza in
August 2005, over 6,000 rockets and mortars were red by Hamas and
other Palestinian terrorist organizations against towns and communities
in southern Israel. During 2008 alone prior to the operation there
were more than 400 rocket attacks. The daily lives of over one million
Israelis within range of Hamas rockets were affected.
On the whole, Operation Cast Leadfollowed a similar pattern to
that of the war in Lebanon in 2006; only this time the Israeli operation
was better planned and executed.
68
The IDF prepared three operational
plans with incremental ambitions for the government consideration.
The political leadership opted for the minimalist option that called
only for a large raid aimed at damaging the military wing of Hamas
enough to deter it from further ring into Israel.
69
Brigadier General
Zvi Fogel, then a senior ofcer at the Southern Command headquarters,
later said that the objective was to to cripple Hamas military capabil-
ities as much as possible.
70
Notably, neither toppling the Hamas rule in
66
Lambeth, Israels War in Gaza: A Paradigm of Effective Military Learning and
Adaptation,8591.
67
Rubin, From Nuisance to Strategic Threat, 20.
68
For an evaluation, see Lambeth, Israels War in Gaza: A Paradigm of Effective
Military Learning and Adaptation,96118; and David E. Johnson, Hard Fighting:
Israel in Lebanon and Gaza (Santa Monica, CA: RAND 2011), 11112.
69
Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, at the time the Chief of Southern Command, Lecture at the
IDF Staff & Command College, 15 April 2009.
70
See Shai Fogelman, Haaretz, 24 Oct. 2010.
18 Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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Gaza nor the re-conquest of the entire Gaza Strip was an objective of
the mission.
In contrast to the reactive 2006 response, in 2008 Israel caught
Hamas off guard. The operation commenced with a short but a power-
ful airstrike. Capitalizing on accurate intelligence, 88 strike aircraft hit
100 preplanned targets in 220 seconds.
71
One of the rst targets was a
Hamas ofcersgraduation ceremony. While the ofcers marched on
the parade ground, ve missiles struck. According to some IDF ofcers
it was an Israeli version of the US doctrine of Shock and Awe.
72
A conservative estimate suggests that 225 Hamas militants were killed
and 750 injured in that incident alone. In addition, the IAF attacked
Hamas government ofces, weapons depots and factories and other
critical infrastructure in Gaza. About 100 warplanes and helicopters
dropped over 100 bombs within the rst hour of the operation.
73
The shock was immense and there were indications that Hamas was
practically paralyzed. This situation led some IDF ofcers to believe
that this was an opportunity to topple Hamas.
74
Yet the government
resisted the temptation to expand the operation to this end.
Unlike the 2006 Lebanon War, Operation Cast Leadplanned for a
ground campaign and reserve mobilization. The ground phase started a
week after the air strikes, when the IAF exhausted the list of valuable
targets. A key difference between the operations in Lebanon and Gaza
was the growing realizations for the need of a ground maneuver.
Conquering territory is not a goal in itself, but it allows a reduction
in enemy re and the destruction of its operational infrastructure.
75
The
operation ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasere.
Casualty gures are contested. A 2009 UN report placed the overall
number of Palestinians killed between 1,387 and 1,417. Israel provided
agure of 1,166, noting that 709 had been identied as Hamas terror
operatives. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights counted 1,417
dead, consisting of 926 civilians, 255 police ofcers, and 236 ghters.
76
On the Israeli side, there were ten soldiers killed, four of which were
caused by friendly re, and 207 wounded. In addition, three Israeli
civilians were killed and seven were severely injured.
An additional cost was the damage to Israels reputation. Like
Hizballah, Hamas ghters hid among civilians, using them as shields.
71
Quoted in Johnson, Hard Fighting, 113.
72
Shai Fogelman, Made in Israel,Haaretz, 24 Dec. 2011.
73
Catignani, Variation on a Theme, 68.
74
Interview with IAF Lt. Col. R, who took part in the planning of the operation, Tel
Aviv, 25 Dec. 2010.
75
Gabriel Siboni, War and Victory(Hebrew), Military and Strategy 1/3 (Dec. 2009).
76
Johnson, Hard Fighting, 120.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 19
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Despite the many Israeli precautions to prevent collateral damage,
civilian casualties resulted in many tragic television stories. Israel
faced ever-increasing international criticism that culminated with the
Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes and severe
human rights violations.
77
These unintended consequences raised the
question whether in the future Israel would be able to initiate a similar
operation given the constraints posed by the international community.
Overall, the operation achieved for a while its objective of bringing
tranquility to the border with Gaza. Several rockets were occasionally
launched mostly by the more extreme terrorist organizations, such as
Islamic Jihad. For a few years the number of rockets dropped to a
minimum (from hundreds per month to isolated cases), which allowed
maintaining normal life in Israels south. However, Mowing the Grass
was once again a necessity, as deterrence eroded over time.
Operation Pillar of Defense
In 2010 there were 365 rocket and mortar incidents from Gaza, while
the respective gures for 2011 and 2012 were 680 and 800.
78
Operation Pillar of Defense(1421 November 2012) was an immedi-
ate response to over 100 rockets red toward Israel within 24 hours, as
well as to an attack on an Israeli patrol and IED explosion on the Israeli
side of the border. Unlike previous incidents, Hamas also red rockets.
As in Operation Cast Leadthe government decided on a minimal-
ist approach.
79
No statements about toppling Hamas or about attain-
ing a decisive victory were issued. Instead, Defense Minister Ehud
Barak presented the following objectives: strengthen Israelsdeter-
rence, severely impair Hamas and other terror organizations,
77
United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conict, <www2.ohchr.org/eng-
lish/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/FactFindingMission.htm>. For a refutation of
these ndings, see Dore Gold, The Dangerous Bias of the United Nations Goldstone
Report,US News, 24 March 2010, <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2010/03/
24/the-dangerous-bias-of-the-united-nations-goldstone-report>. Goldstone himself
retracted the ndings of his report on 2 April 2011, <http://www.washingtonpost.
com/opinions/reconsidering-the-goldstone-report-on-israel-and-war-crimes/2011/04/01/
AFg111JC_story.html>.
78
Benjamin S. Lambeth, Second Lebanon War a Reassessment,Military and Strategy
4/3 (Dec. 2012), note 47.
79
Giora Eiland, Operation Pillar of Defense, Strategic Perspectives, in Shlomo Brom
(ed.), In the Aftermath of Operation Pillar of Defense: The Gaza Strip, November 2012
(Tel Aviv: INSS 2012), Memorandum 124, 12.
20 Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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specically crippling its rocket capabilities, and minimizing attacks
on Israelshomefront.
80
Similarly to the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast
Leadin 200809, the major achievements were gained in the rst hours
of the operation due to the effect of accurate, surprise airstrikes. The
IDF initially eliminated Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas supreme military
commander, and many junior Hamas terrorists were eliminated as well.
Additional Hamas targets were attacked, such as underground rocket
launchers and ammunition warehouses stocking Iranian-made, long-
range Fajr-5 missiles. The idea was to simultaneously decapitate the
leadership of the Hamas military wing and destroy its strategic assets.
In the next few days the IDF continued its stand-off re campaign
against military targets. However, the impact of the strikes dissipated
as the targets became less valuable, while the Palestinians continued to
re rockets and mortar shells into Israel. In contrast, the IDF took
measures unprecedented in the history of warfare to minimize civilian
casualties. Almost 100 per cent of attacks used precision-guided muni-
tions, in comparison to 63 per cent in the Second Lebanon War and 81
per cent in Operation Cast Lead.
81
Moreover, the IDF spread leaets,
made telephone calls, aborted airstrikes and engaged in roof knocking
by small munitions to warn about impending airstrikes. Indeed, the
numbers of civilian casualties was less than a third of the 200 total
Palestinian fatalities.
Just as impressive were the defensive measures. The Iron Dome
batteries intercepted 422 rockets that were red into urban areas, an
88 per cent success rate. The 58 rockets that did fall in these areas killed
only three civilians, reecting the disciplined behavior of the civilian
population that followed the instructions issued by the authorities. The
success of the defensive measures reduced the pressure for a ground
offensive.
In parallel to the air campaign, the IDF made preparations, including
the mobilization of tens of thousands of reservists for a ground invasion
that did not materialize.
82
These preparations were also meant to
increase the psychological pressure on Hamas. Yet it was obvious that
Israel was reluctant to put boots on the ground.
80
Zvi Zinger, The Political Echelon is hoping for a quick ending but preparing for a
ground operation,< http://megafon-news.co.il/asys/archives/98500>.
81
Amir Rapaport, 100% Precision Munitions from the Air,Israel Defense
11 (Nov.-Dec. 2012),
82
According to IDF, it mobilized between 60,000 to 70,000 reservists a greater number
than in Cast Lead and similar to the gure in the last stage of the 2006 Lebanon War. Or
Heler, The Reserve in Pillar of Defense,Israel Defense, 19 Jan. 2013.
Israels Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conict 21
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Israel refrained from escalating with a ground offensive, and the
operationinGazaagainendedwithanEgyptian-negotiatedtruce.The
details of the cease re agreement with Hamas were not made public.
Though Israel made a few minor concessions to Hamas, its important
achievement was the Hamas commitment to maintain and enforce the
cease re. It was the rst major military operation Israel launched
following the Goldstone Reportand the events of the Arab Spring
that led to the Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt. These factors,
as well as reluctance to commit boots on the ground because of
potential casualties, constrained Israels reaction. Importantly,
Jerusalem was successful in maintaining international support for its
operation in Gaza.
The absence of a ground operation posed, however, two problems for
Israel. First, Hamasclaim of victory by insisting that Israel was
deterred from conducting a ground offensive encourages Hamas and
other terror groups to continue to provoke Israel. Second, without a
ground offensive that regains operational control over all or parts of
Gaza, parts of the terrorist infrastructure remained intact.
Conclusion
This article dwelled on Israelstwenty-rst century military experience
against radical non-state actors whose radical ideology is not subject
to change in the near future. The critics of Israels use of force share a
common Western cultural bias that aspires for solutions to end mili-
tary conict. The idea that the Arab-Israeli conict is a prolonged
intractable conict that evolved over 100 years and might continue
for a long while is simply intolerable to many Westerners. There is a
marked reluctance to accept the evaluation shared by the dominant
Israeli decisionmakers and a large majority of the Israelis that the
Arab-Israeli conictisnotgoingtobesolvedinthenearfuture.
Similarly difcult to accept is that there is no decisive military solution
to meet the challenges posed by the radical non-state organizations.
Consequently, the success of a military strategy should be measured
against achieving the policy goals set by the political echelon, not by
the analysts. Moreover, part of the critics are averse to the use of
military force, a widespread aversion in the West.
In contrast to current Western thinking and practices, long-term
occupation and a population-centric strategy is not an option for
Israel. Therefore, Israel settles for modest goals, attempting to destroy
the capabilities of the enemy to terrorize a large number of Israelis and
harm Israeli strategic targets.
Therefore an Israeli response to terrorist attacks from non-state
actors is only a question of time. Though the initial response is
22 Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir
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low-key, to prevent escalation, the cumulative effect of the terrorist
activity inevitably brings about an Israeli escalation, one that is
intendedtoinict a high price on the enemy and destroy at least a
part of its offensive capabilities and restore deterrence. A larger-scale
operation including a ground invasion is not an enticing option,
however. Indeed, Israel showed much patience and endurance before
commencing large-scale operations, as was reviewed here.
Nevertheless, the empirical data clearly indicates that Israelsuseof
force achieves temporary quiet, which this article argued is Israels
main goal.
Over time, Israel has improved its military performance. The IDF has
also used more precise re and has taken more precautions to prevent the
loss of innocent lives. This suits the moral code of the IDF, but also
enhances legitimacy at home and abroad. It is not clear whether Israeli
military actions affect the learning curves in Gaza or Lebanon. In any case,
the immediate effect is some tranquility, which is possibly due also to the
fact that Hizballah and Hamas have assumed government responsibilities.
Mowing the Grassis a realistic strategy that could serve a model for
other armies. Yet, if the non-state actors are to acquire statist charac-
teristics and/or more powerful capabilities, Mowing the Grassmight
become an outdated military strategy.
Acknowledgements
We thank Dima Adamsky, Steven David, Hillel Frisch, Eado Hecht, Avi
Kober, Ellie Lieberman and Shmuel Sandler for their useful comments on
an earlier draft. Three anonymous reviewers helped rene the manuscript.
We also thank Eitan Rapps for his research and editorial assistance.
Note on contributors
Efraim Inbar is Professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and
Director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.
Eitan Shamir is Lecturer in Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and
Senior Researcher at the BESA Center.
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